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Thailand In Turmoil
Actually, It Is a Coup

Two days after declaring martial law and asserting that the soldiers on the streets were not evidence of a coup, Thailand’s army chief backtracked and declared a coup on Thursday. “It is necessary for the Peace and Order Maintaining Command—which includes army, navy, armed forces and police—to take control of governing the country,” he said in a statement. “We ask the public not to panic and to carry on their lives normally. And civil servants stay in every ministry, carry on your responsibilities as normal.”

The coup follows months of turmoil in Thailand. It appears that the army stepped in before matters could grow worse; rival protests groups had promised a “final battle” later this week. In taking over the government, the army spilled no blood and does not appear intent on imprisoning any political leaders for very long. Protest camps were dismantled peacefully. The army chief promised the country would “return to normal quickly.” It remains to be seen whether the election, currently scheduled for late July or early August, will go forward.

Some Thais welcomed the intervention. In an op-ed titled “Well played general,” Voranai Vanijaka writes, “when central authority has collapsed, the rule of law broken down and society faced with protracted  violence and anarchy, the only force with the power to bring back stability is the military.” Ordinary citizens were seen taking selfies with soldiers across Bangkok earlier this week. Airports were operating as usual. The only signs of a change seem to be the proliferation of soldiers in Bangkok and the plummeting stock exchange.

The peace and calm are a thin disguise for Thailand’s intractable political problems. So were the last several coups, whether led by the army or organized by the courts. With the beloved king’s health failing and the crown prince unable to win the same kind of affection, Thailand’s political forces are battling over the future of the country. Whoever takes over in Bangkok will have enormous sway over the future of the country at a pivotal moment. The anti-government protestors, backed by allies in the courts, the military, and the traditional urban elite, were struggling to unseat the populist government run by the allies and family members of Thaksin Shinawatra, a billionaire businessman accused of corruption. The Shinawatras have a habit of winning elections, thanks to massive support from poor and rural Thais. The anti-Shinawatra faction can’t abide losing election after election and want to dispense with democracy altogether in order to gain the upper hand.

The coup doesn’t end this war. It just postpones the date of the next battle.

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  • Andrew Allison

    Or, it may convince the Red Shirts that if they want to form a government, they need to win an election.

    • Breif2

      If the situation in Thailand is best decribed as the Shinawatras buying the support of a Red Shirt majority by by extracting funds from a Yellow Shirt minority, then your advice is not particularly helpful. If.

  • MontyBurnz

    Sounds like they needed a coup to prevent the deleterious effects of a democratic tyranny of the majority, which it seems are uneducated rural peasants. The hoi polloi won’t like that the demagogues they voted for were ousted but if the generals can reform the constitution, it will lead to greater stability for the nation and more security for the productive classes.

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